BIOTECTONICS at The Ontario Science Centre


In this age of pandemics, we see panic and fear of infectious disease increasingly defining modern society. The cultural and social worlds we inhabit are being transformed in unexpected, and often, uncontrollable ways. Microbes, the oldest forms of life on earth, terrify us: an invisible invader with the possibility of contaminating our cellular lives. Yet all of us are biological hosts, housing a vast and thriving community of micro-organisms. Coexisting within us symbiotically, microbes mostly do us no harm. It is those ‘other’ microbes, the ones that cross over from insects or animals or different ecologies, that artfully become pathogenic, causing illness, or even death, escalating our fear and terror.

Biotectonics is an installation of over 1500 petri dishes that concentrates hundreds of digital images of halobacteria into a large flowing stream, surrounded by a sea of white crystallized salt. Located in the intersection between art and science, Biotectonics is an installation of salt crystals and digital microscopy images. It attempts to mitigate the current climate of fear by presenting the paradoxical beauty of microbes that live in us, on us, and around us. The images were taken through my microscope of the live cultured naturally pink-to-red coloured Halobacterium sp. NRC-1. Halobacteria is an ancient and non-pathogenic bacterium that lives only in a high salt environment. If you have eaten shrimp, you have also ingested halobacteria. If you have seen flamingos, this is why they are pink. I also grew the delicate salt crystals in the hundreds of petri dishes that make up the rest of the piece.

 Biotectonics was created in 2009 with a grant from the Canada Council for the Arts.  It was first exhibited in the Red Head Gallery in 2010 and then in the Ontario Science Centre's Hot Zone from the fall of 2014 to spring of 2015.                                                                                                     

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